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Writing Happily Married, but avoiding Sickening Sweethearts:

So there happens to be a couple of romantic subplots in my work. There's several flavours of it. But there's one Official Couple that I'm trying to work on.
  • They're the parents of a couple of the protagonists and are minor charater's themselves. They're present through most of it, but a few sections have them in particular focus. They happen to be a Beta Couple to some of the more 'complicated' relationships. They happen to be Happily Married, but what are some ways to pull this off, but not have them come across as Sickening Sweethearts?
  • In addition, what are some tips for pulling off (relatively happy) romantic couples without it getting extremely boring, Narmy, or a Romantic Plot Tumor?

 2 Madrugada, Thu, 11th Apr '13 6:21:26 AM Relationship Status: In season
Zzzzzzzzzz
Watch real couples who are happy together. There are hundreds of things you can do without veering into sickeningly sweet.
'He strutted across the bedroom, his hard manhood pointing the way' sounds like he owns a badly named seeing-eye dog. 'Sit, Hard Manhood!
So just try to keep it realistic and I should be good?

Yes.

Avoid cutesy nicknames (unless you have a specific reason to use them).
Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.
I need a drink
Couples do fight, and these fights can be pretty big. The difference between an unhappy couple and a happy one is that once the fight is over they talk about it. The key to a happily married couple is communication. Communication is always key. A couple don't always have to be at each others side either. They love each other, they're not attached at the hip. They are allowed some measure of freedom and independence.
Theres sex and death and human grime in monochrome for one thin dime and at least the trains all run on time but they dont go anywhere.
Jolly Good Show
Make them friends, aswell. Not in the 'Oh, we do everything together' way, but in such a manner that they joke, they make fun of each other, and occasionally cross the line.

That's just my opinion, but that tends to be a hallmark of the healthy relationships I've come across.
It's your God, they're your rules, you go to hell." - Mark Twain
I need a drink
Definitely this!
Theres sex and death and human grime in monochrome for one thin dime and at least the trains all run on time but they dont go anywhere.
 8 Editor Pall Mall, Thu, 11th Apr '13 8:29:08 AM from United States, East Coast
Don't Fear the Spiders
Also keep in mind just because you are "happily" married that does not mean they always get along, always work out their differences, all of the time. It simply means you stand each other just enough to keep saying you are not divorcing anytime soon. There is a boatload of room for conflict.

Perhaps the easiest way would be to give the couple a problem and have them take differing stances on how to solve it.
Keep it breezy!
 9 Ars Thaumaturgis, Thu, 11th Apr '13 9:20:19 AM Relationship Status: I've been dreaming of True Love's Kiss
[up] I'm inclined to argue that if they are generally only a little above the point of divorcing then they are arguably not "happily" married — they're just not sufficiently unhappy to want to divorce.

(Of course, this may depend on the threshold at which one would be inclined to divorce, which may vary significantly between couples.)

[edit]
But overall, I think that I'm inclined to agree with the person who recommended friendship: I would imagine that they'd be friends, likely close friends and quite possibly best friends (and I'd imagine that their probable happiness, all other things being equal, would increase the closer the friendship). Again, as has been said, this doesn't necessarily mean "doing everything together all the time", but more sharing, trusting and communicating, and taking an interest in each others' lives, I would think.

edited 11th Apr '13 9:23:02 AM by ArsThaumaturgis

I need a drink
depending on the period in which the story takes place divorce may not be possible.
Theres sex and death and human grime in monochrome for one thin dime and at least the trains all run on time but they dont go anywhere.
 11 JHM, Thu, 11th Apr '13 10:58:42 AM from Neither Here Nor There Relationship Status: We finish each other's sandwiches
Thunder, Perfect Mind
[up][up][up] That's a pretty cynical way to put it. Yes, people can argue reasonably often and still be happy with their relationship overall, but that sounds less happy with one's situation than tolerating it, which is something entirely different.
 12 Redneck Rocker, Thu, 11th Apr '13 11:54:27 AM from None Of Your Business
First Loyalty: Yourself
Another possibility is to mention that they've known each other, and have been good friends, for quite a while (not since the delivery room; but perhaps since middle or high school). As a result, they know the other one's ideas, beliefs, etc. quite well.

To paraphrase Ned Flanders from the episode When Flanders Failed: "Y'know, Bob, it was my dad's company transferring him to [wherever the story takes place] that made us neighbors. But you're the one that made us friends."

Because of this long association, occasionally, they might be able to guess what the other one would do or say, but now and then, they're caught off-guard.
Embroiled in slave rebellion, I escaped crucifixion simply by declaring 'I am Vito', everyone else apparently being called 'Spartacus'.
 13 Fawriel, Thu, 11th Apr '13 12:11:20 PM from the bottom of my heart Relationship Status: If it's you, it's okay
dead but happy
I just skimmed across the replies and I bet this came up, but I'll say it again anyway:

In a happy marriage, both partners know how much space to give one another. Realistically speaking, no one can spend all the time with anyone and not grow tired of it at some point. A happily married couple will likely spend a good amount of time apart every day, but when they do do something together, they'll enjoy it immensely.

The core of the problem is that people grow used to one another. In a happy marriage, the partners got used to one another and are still totally okay with it. They don't need to have their beloved constantly all up in their face, but they'd be devastated if they were torn apart because each has simply become a central part of the other's life.

So yeah, generally speaking, a happy couple will just act like good friends most of the time, except every once in a while when they feel like doing things friends don't usually do. In such cases, they may fall into sickeningly sweethearts territory, but if they otherwise behave normally, it's perfectly alright. (Though of course whether you can pull off a balance like that depends on how much screentime they get.)
in spite of it all
 14 Wolf 1066, Thu, 11th Apr '13 2:31:16 PM from New Zealand Relationship Status: In my bunk
Wolf1066
Look at two long-term best friends. Perhaps your own relationship with your best friend(s).

That, with living together and sex - change the sex of one of them if necessary.

Acceptance and understanding of each other's differences (not just "tolerance")

Example: It's Christmas/Thanksgiving/whatever. One wants to spend it with his/her parents, hasn't seen them for a long while. (S)he knows and understands that the other doesn't enjoy going to wherever his/her parents are. Says to other "I'm going to my parents this holiday. You're welcome to come if you wish but if you don't want to, you can do something else."

The other understands that it's been a long while since his/her partner has visited with parents and the desire/need to see them. (S)He does not have preconceptions of "we must spend our holidays together." Opts to go fishing with his/her buddies instead.

After holidays, they get together refreshed having enjoyed themselves, have a lot to talk about and really appreciate: the time spent doing their own thing, the mutual respect and understanding that makes it possible, and the time they're spending together at this time after having not seen each other for a week or so.

That's based on a real couple I know.

If they're doing something together, it's because they decide to do something together at that time ("mutuality" - mutual decision to do this together at this time) - no obligations, no expectations, no "if you really loved me, you'd endure the 12-hour drive to my parent's place", no "we went to your parents' last year, you've got to come to mine, now, even though my dad gives you shit every five minutes", no conditions.

I like this, (s)he doesn't, I'll go and do this at this time, (s)he can enjoy what (s)he wants and we'll both enjoy doing something we both like later and it'll be really special.

Just as friends don't have to do everything together and give each other their own space then have a whale of a good time doing things together.

Things that affect both are discussed and worked out as equals. There will be times when compromises have to be made and not everyone gets what they want - not all of life is "well, you can do it your way and I'll do what I want", especially when it comes to shared accommodation, children etc.

They'll argue but then calm down and make up. They'll understand and respect each other's points of view.

edited 11th Apr '13 2:34:35 PM by Wolf1066

Dangerously Genre Savvy since ages ago...
 15 Madrugada, Thu, 11th Apr '13 3:51:04 PM Relationship Status: In season
Zzzzzzzzzz
And the Wolf nails it.[awesome]
'He strutted across the bedroom, his hard manhood pointing the way' sounds like he owns a badly named seeing-eye dog. 'Sit, Hard Manhood!
 16 Wolf 1066, Thu, 11th Apr '13 4:55:55 PM from New Zealand Relationship Status: In my bunk
Wolf1066
<"modestly" buffs fingernails on shirt> tongue

I've got a big enough ego as it is, Maddy. [lol]

edited 11th Apr '13 4:56:24 PM by Wolf1066

Dangerously Genre Savvy since ages ago...
 17 De Marquis, Thu, 11th Apr '13 5:45:54 PM from Hell, USA Relationship Status: Buried in snow, waiting for spring
Who Am I?
All of you are right, because successful relationships are complicated. Sometimes you are best friends, and you do things together because you genuinely like each other and enjoy spending time together. Other times you need a break, or your companion needs one, and you give each other space because that's when you can recharge from the stress of making a family work. And sometimes, yes, you are one thoughtless statement away from divorce, because sometimes life is too hard and the stress is too much and it's bringing out the worst in both of you. Successfully dealing with the dark moments is what makes the marriage strong, by the way. I think I was engaged for about a year before I began to feel that maybe the entire relationship was not at stake with every argument. The very first person I felt like sharing that with was her, and that's when I knew we were going to get married. We had planned it before that, but I didn't really know it until we had been through a couple of really harsh confrontations.

As for writing a successful marriage, since the couple are not your primary characters, you probably don't want to go into endless detail about the minutia of their lives together, just some dialogue scenes to establish what kind of relationship they have. There are some decent role models on TV, esp. the more irony-free sit-coms like "The Middle" and "Modern Family". Throw a minor catastrophe their way, let them stumble around a bit, generate some misunderstanding, and then let them get past it. If you can set it up as a contrast to the high-melodrama, angst-ridden opera that is the teen romance (both in lit and real life), then you're good.
“Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves.”
 18 Madrugada, Thu, 11th Apr '13 8:00:48 PM Relationship Status: In season
Zzzzzzzzzz
'He strutted across the bedroom, his hard manhood pointing the way' sounds like he owns a badly named seeing-eye dog. 'Sit, Hard Manhood!
Out of curiosity, what, if any, of this would change if the couple in question were the Protagonist and Deuteragonist as opposed to a Beta Couple?
 
 20 Madrugada, Tue, 23rd Apr '13 8:05:41 AM Relationship Status: In season
Zzzzzzzzzz
Nothing. The original question doesn't relate to their role in the story, it is about how they interact with each other.
'He strutted across the bedroom, his hard manhood pointing the way' sounds like he owns a badly named seeing-eye dog. 'Sit, Hard Manhood!
 21 Wolf 1066, Tue, 23rd Apr '13 2:21:42 PM from New Zealand Relationship Status: In my bunk
Wolf1066
Alpha, Beta, bit-characters #149 and #150, whatever: if they weren't sickening sweethearts as one, they won't be as another.

Frankly, it'd be refreshing to see happily married alpha characters who handle the adventure together, rather than every story "having to have" a romantic subplot.

I tend to write happily "married" (or de facto/Civil Unioned/going steady etc) because I'm sick of the overused romance tropes that are frequently shoe-horned into every other genre.
Dangerously Genre Savvy since ages ago...
 22 drunkscriblerian, Wed, 24th Apr '13 11:28:45 PM from Castle Geekhaven Relationship Status: In season
Street Writing Man
Some good suggestions here.

Mine would be, give the married couple good, snappy, friendly dialogue. I've noticed that people in happy relationships tend to fall into a rhythm of interaction; they joke with each other, flip each other (friendly) shit and make jokes most of the other people in the room don't get.

Another one; good couples don't fight when things get stressful. * They close ranks and solve whatever problem is facing them as a unit.

A good example from fiction of a happy couple played well is Spenser and Susan Silverman from Robert B. Parker's Spenser novels. Their relationship never takes over the overarching plot, but when bits of it are included they are always fun to read...and their interactions cover the range of a relationship - including occasional problems. And like I suggested, their dialogue is one of the high points of the stories, rather than a chore to read.

If I were to write some of the strange things that come under my eyes they would not be believed.

~Cora M. Strayer~
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Total posts: 22
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